February 01, 2012  |   By Mike Hembree - SPEED.com

Menard Rolls Into 2012 As Winner

For the first time in his relatively brief Sprint Cup career, Paul Menard enters a season without an ugly zero in the career win column.

In one of the big shockers of the 2011 season, Menard notched his first career win – and brought some magic along at the same time. Menard won the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, finally putting the Menard name – one long associated with the world’s most famous race track – in its victory lane.

Now, Menard said, it’s time to move on to the next level.

“Our realistic goal is to make the Chase,” he said. “We have the same group of guys from last year. We didn’t see a need to make many changes on the team. Everybody’s really happy. I come to the shop once or twice a week and see smiles on people’s faces.

“We had a really good test at Daytona, even in the single-car runs. We want to go down there and sit on the pole and see what happens.”

The Indianapolis win obviously was important and emotional, Menard said, but after the celebrations it was time to move on.

“What we did at Indy really didn’t affect what we did at Pocono (the following week),” he said. “You show up every week and do your job as hard as you can. If somebody wins four races in a row, I’m not sure that makes the fifth any easier.

“I’ve been racing for 25 years now. I’ve won at everything I’ve done. Obviously, as you get higher in the ranks, it gets more difficult. I wasn’t sure if I’d ever win in Sprint Cup, but I sure as hell was going to try. It makes you hungry for that second one and that third one.”

Menard rolls into his second season at Richard Childress Racing and his third with crew chief Slugger Labbe.

“A year ago I was a new guy, but I felt like I’d been here for a long time,” Menard said. “There were a lot of familiar faces from DEI that I had worked with. Having Slugger for a second year last year brought some familiarity.

“I just know everybody. I know how our system works. I know how everything operates. It makes me a little more comfortable.

“Slugger and I met at a coffee shop a couple of years ago. It was one of those ‘How you doing’ meetings. We thought it would be for about 45 minutes, but we sat there for two or three hours shooting the breeze. We talk every day, at least once a day. Our personalities are very different, but, at the same time, we’re very similar. It works.”

Now it’s time to make it work even better.